Alessandra Stone, 15, and her sister Angelina, 13, are national champion baton twirlers from Fresno -- Not a big surprise since their mother is former world champion twirler Yolanda Castellanos-Stone. Yolanda won her title in 1982 in Tokyo at age 18.
Yolanda now coaches the sport and brought her 30-member team Dazzling Diamondettes to Minarets High School recently to participate in the Northern and Central Valley Baton Competition.
More than 100 baton twirlers from as far as San Francisco, Sacramento, Porterville and Salinas competed throughout the day in four divisions -- novice, beginning, intermediate and advanced.
Stone, along with Karla Hubbell of Fremont, are co-coordinators of the event.
Yolanda said twirling usually gets mixed-in with cheerleading, but feels twirling is a sport of its own and is doing all she can to increase the awareness of the sport.
"These kids work very hard and it's very gratifying to watch them compete and succeed," Yolanda said. "It's not about winning -- The rewards of competing in baton twirling are making life-long friends with other twirlers, having girls feeling good about their accomplishments and gaining confidence in themselves."
"Twirling is great because it offers all levels of competition so the beginners compete with other beginners," Hubbell said. "These events provide a competitive experience with minimal stress on the girls."
Two girls from Madera County participated in the event -- Kilee Thornton, 12, of Coarsegold, and Shyann Mattes, 15, of O'Neals.
Thornton, who has been twirling for four years, said she loves everything about baton twirling.
"I love the competition, the costumes we wear and the chance to travel," Thornton said. "Our coach is amazing -- In addition to teaching us the skills or baton twirling, she choreographs all our routines."
Thornton and Mattes are planning to participate in a national competition in July in Dayton, Fla. It will be the first time for both twirlers to enter a national competition and they will compete in team and individual divisions.
"When I get out of school, I'll start practicing for nationals about 20 hours a week with the team and an additional six to eight hours a week on my own," Mattes said.
The twirlers are judged on variation and difficulty of baton work, footwook, correlation with music and overall technique.
And the sport is not just for girls -- Hubbell's 18-year-old son Kurtis, has been twirling since he was three. Twirling competitions have allowed him to see parts of the world he would not have seen if it was not for competitive twirling, including Canada, Italy, Ireland and Holland. And along the way, he has collected his share of gold medals for his twirling skills.